As the 2011 World Match Racing Tour heads towards stage 7 in Bermuda, Argo Group Gold Cup Chairman Brian Billings believes there are a group of young and hungry match racers with the potential to upset five of the competing Tour Card Holders who have each lifted the Gold Cup.
After wrestling first place in the Championship from Francesco Bruni
(ITA), Bruni Racing
, following a third place in St. Moritz, Ian Williams
(GBR), Team GAC Pindar,
will be the man to beat though at the Argo Group Gold Cup. He will be a marked man for the teams eyeing the overall Championship, the teams hoping to secure an invitation to the Monsoon Cup and, according to Billings, the young teams who are out to make a name for themselves by taking a huge scalp.
Billings has been involved with the Argo Group Gold Cup in various guises since 1988 and is acutely aware of the importance of the event for all 24 competing teams.
"We've had some incredible success stories where young, less experienced sailors have come from nowhere, knocked the big boys off their pedestals and then gone on to compete regularly on the World Match Racing Tour and the America's Cup."
Billings is referring to the likes of Andy Green who entered the competition in Bermuda in 1999 as a relative unknown and walked away with the title. With the winners list boasting names such as Russell Coutts, Peter Gilmour and Chris Dickson, Green's win shows anything is possible in Bermuda. This was just the start of things to come for Green who went on to join Hawaii's Abracadabra syndicate in the 2000 America's Cup.
A host of emerging talent like Jakub Pawluk
(POL), Sam Pearson
(GBR), Terry McLaughlin
(CAN) and Lance Fraser
(BER) will join all nine Tour Card Holders in Bermuda and while Billings realises experience helps, these young teams often have no fear and their fair share of tricks.
"The boats are much heavier and very tactical so you have to be quite a few steps ahead. The teams who have been here before will have an advantage over the newcomers because they know the boats but it doesn't take the young guys long to figure it all out.
"Also, the experienced guys are always racing each other and know each other's tactics. The young teams can throw a surprise to the seasoned skippers because they may never have raced, don't know their style, how good they are and can't play their tactical games so effectively because they don't necessarily know what works and what doesn't. All of these elements make things very unpredictable."
The Argo Group Gold Cup is unique to the Tour by the fact it's based on a 24-team format. Split into three groups of eight, the top two teams from each group qualify directly for the knock out stages. Third and fourth places go into the repechage where the top two go on to join the other six in the quarter-finals. The event chose to race in this format after the organisers decided it was vital to give young aspiring sailors every opportunity to make a name for themselves on the match racing circuit by qualifying for the knock out stages of a pedigree event like the Argo Group Gold Cup.
"Bermuda gives young sailors the opportunity to take part in a world class event."
Billings said. "It gives them the opportunity to compete with the world's best and increase their rankings."
Steeped in history, the event's trophy - the King Edward VII Gold Cup - is the oldest match racing trophy in the world for competitions involving one-design yachts. It was first presented in 1907 in Jamestown, Virginia before being given to the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club in 1937 where it has remained ever since. The rich history, location and conditions make it an attractive event for both sailors and spectators.
"The event is very unique in terms of physical location as it's the second most remote island in the world. It's also one of the most beautiful harbours in the world and the changing winds make it a challenging place for competitors to sail. We always have a consistent breeze but what you get one day could be entirely different from the next.
"The viewing is also incredible for spectators and the event has the ability to create an exciting atmosphere for all."
The 2011 Argo Group Gold Cup gets underway on Tuesday 4 October. Live coverage of the action will be available daily at www.wmrt.com.
2011 ISAF World Match Race Tour Standings (After Stage 6):
1 Ian Williams (GBR) Team GAC Pindar
2 Francesco Bruni (ITA) Bruni Racing
3 Torvar Mirsky (AUS) The Wave Muscat
4 Peter Gilmour (AUS) YANMAR Racing
5 Bjorn Hansen (SWE) Mekonomen Sailing Team
6 Damien Iehl (FRA) French Match Racing Team
7 Mathieu Richard (FRA) French Match Racing Team
8 Jesper Radich (DEN) Adrian Lee & Partners
9 Johnie Berntsson (SWE) Berntsson Sailing Team
10 Phil Robertson (NZL) WAKA Racing